How do I grow my counselling business online? Find out from someone who has
Posted on 27th August 2020 by Marketing Executive - Katherine Ducie
As part of our Meet The Freelancer series of blogs we interview many freelance professionals from a range of industries.
This month we meet Surrey based counsellor and business owner, Jane Barnfield-Jukes, who has been a self-employed counsellor/ psychotherapist for the past 12 years.
Before becoming a councillor, Jane worked in sales and marketing, in the chemical industry. After taking a career break to have her children, and having always had an interest in helping people, Jane embarked on a five-year retraining program to become a counsellor.
Initially starting her career as a counsellor working from a practice in Weybridge, Jane decided to expand her business by taking it online.
She now works with adults, couples and young people with GP referrals, in both the public and private sector. Her work helps patients with depression, anxiety, stress, loss, addiction, life limiting illness, self-harm, eating disorders, phobias and those who have suffered abuse.
As her business has expanded over her career, Jane now runs a total of four counselling practices in Surrey and has taken her award-winning business, The Practice, online. Along with providing counselling, Jane mentors other counsellors and helps them build their own private practice.
The Practice’s online platform allows Surrey based clients to book face to face counselling sessions through the website. It also lets clients based anywhere in the UK book online counselling sessions.
The website offers the services of freelance counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists to nationwide clients seeking support in areas from addiction to eating disorders to relationships and more.
In this article, Jane shares her first-hand experience and tips for taking your freelance counselling services online.
What prompted Jane to take her business online?
Explaining what inspired her to set up business online, Jane says: “The more and more familiar I became with the digital space, the more I noticed how hard it was for freelance practitioners to gain any visibility. I realised that there was a plethora of middlemen flooding the online market and this was not beneficial to either therapist or client which is what prompted me to start my online business.
“I set out to create the same feel online as we have in our practices. I recognised that by offering The Practice online, we could reach more of the people we were trying to help in places where therapy is difficult to access.
“Founded by therapists for therapists, I set out to create an ethical business model designed to provide a comfortable safe space for both freelance therapists and their private clients.
“Developing our own platform and partnering with web design and optimisation experts, we are now able to champion our freelance therapists and enable high quality therapists to be found where their clients are looking for them.”
What are the benefits of taking your counselling business online?
For Jane, a great benefit of taking her counselling business online was having ‘the opportunity to meet even more amazing new psychotherapists without the restriction of geography’ and being able to expand her tribe of like-minded therapists.
Other benefits experienced include:
- National exposure
- Increased access to new clients
- Ability to meet more people in need
- A huge uplift in traffic to the website
How can I get started with counselling online?
Sharing her advice on how to take your freelance counselling services online, Jane recommends looking at The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and The British Psychological Society (BPS). Each brand has a wealth of information on their site around the considerations of working with clients online.
She says: “You can only work online if your clients can find you, and you will be competing with a never-ending list of other therapists. Create on online presence (website) that is easy to navigate.
“To help build my website, I employed a website design firm. Working with the design company was really helpful as they thought of things that I hadn’t considered. Using their vast experience benefited us as we were new to website creation. We created a partnership that relied on their design experience and our therapeutic experience. The finished product was a combination of their expertise and our knowledge of the therapeutic journey from both the client perspective and the therapist perspective.
“If you are self-employed and working alone, a simple website is sufficient but finding someone that knows how to promote it is the key.
“Although it takes a while for listings to build traction, they do help to create an overall profile and clients are reassured when they find you in multiple places online so list yourself on reputable lists (BACP, Counselling Directory, and Yell).
“The most important advice is to invest in a professional photograph. Remember this is your face to the world. In our ever increasingly aesthetically charged society, what you look like is more important than ever.”
What challenges did you face when you were setting up your business?
When it came to setting up her own business, Jane says the biggest challenge was having enough faith to believe it would work out. She says: “The biggest challenge is believing in yourself. You have to be prepared to sit in the room with one client for a year. Building relationships with local GPs, waiting for online traction to build so people can find you and discovering high quality likeminded therapists to collaborate or work with are all challenges that we face.
How can I keep my business protected?
To keep her business protected, Jane has both Professional Indemnity insurance, to cover claims made by clients for professional negligence or mistakes, and Public Liability insurance which covers claims made by members of the public for injury or damage.
She tells us: “All the therapists at The Practice have their own Professional Indemnity and Public Liability insurance and the buildings we work from have building and contents insurance so that as far as possible everything is covered.
“We have insurance to be as responsible as we can be, without being over cautious. The buildings we work from are all classed as D1 (a non-residential institution) or above by the local council, which means they are certified for public use. The cost of insurance cover in our profession is actually reasonable, especially considering the litigious world we seem to be inhabiting.”
What is the key to making your online business successful?
Jane describes digital marketing as being the key to making a counselling business successful online.
She explains: “I recommend using Google My Business, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Yell. Educate yourself in how these platforms work. Try to get as many five-star reviews as possible. Invest in your online profile and business. Work with a trusted web developer and established SEO company. It’s helpful to have testimonials where possible, but you must appreciate your clients’ privacy.”
These platforms are particularly helpful as they’ll optimise and promote your online business for local searches. With 5.6 billion searches per day, Google is the world’s most popular search engine (1). By having a Google My Business (GMB) page you’ll be found by more of your target audience and potential local clients when they’re searching terms like ‘best counsellors near me’.
This is because with a GMB page, it will allow you to appear in the Local Pack which is a section at the top of page one that lists local businesses related to a search query. It’ll also allow clients to leave reviews for your business. The more positive reviews you gain, the more likely it is that potential clients will choose you. Research also suggests that online reviews are thought to make up 6% of how search engines rank results (2).
Social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will allow you to build your brand awareness, demonstrate your expertise and be found by more customers. Channels like Facebook give you the opportunity to build up positive reviews which will help build you reputation. If you have the budget to, you can use social media to run targeted ads or boost your posts, so they’re seen by more of the people you want to discover your business.
Yell is a business directory which is the online version of the yellow pages. If you’re listed on Yell, you can be discovered by more clients who are searching for counsellors and psychotherapists in your area. You can get your business listed on the directory for free or you can pay a monthly fee for extra features.
Which video conferencing platform is best use?
When it comes to wondering whether to use Zoom over Skype, Jane says: “Having worked with all of them, there is not much difference between them. What is most important is that you encourage your clients to set the privacy settings to safeguard themselves as much as possible. Make them aware of the limits of confidentiality within the therapeutic alliance.”
Recreate the in person therapeutic experience
When counselling online, Jane says: “In my experience, one of the easiest ways to feel comfortable with this new way of delivery therapeutic support is to maintain all of the boundaries you would normally have in place when seeing someone face to face, such as length of sessions, consistency of times of appointments and payment.
“To recreate, as far as possible, the in person therapeutic experience I ask my clients to contact me using their preferred platform, therefore retaining the same autonomy they would have if they were meeting me in person. If they choose to be late or not enter the session at all then that is their choice. There is quite a bit of controversy about which platform to use, so this places the responsibility of the decision with the client, not the therapist.”
The importance of presentation
Jane describes setting the scene, in terms of background and lighting, as being even more important when you’re working with a client virtually.
She says: “Position the camera at least one meter away from you so clients can see your gestures and your body language. If possible, lighting is more effective if it is beside you rather than from above. Take the time to set the scene. Your surroundings and what it looks like matter even more than they did before. A calm neutral non-distracting back drop will be much more conducive to an effective session.
“It is also very important that you take care with your personal presentation. You should make every attempt to appear as if you are meeting your client in person. Make sure to educate your clients to ensure they are in a safe space and won’t be interrupted. It can be difficult for some clients to find a private space. If this is the case, you could recommend that your client sits in their car in the driveway. Or if they are going for a walk then a phone call during that time might be the best way to have a session.
Prioritising your own wellbeing
Helping patients to manage their emotions and improve their wellbeing, starts with looking after your own.
Jane explains how to look after your wellbeing when working as a counsellor: “Adapting to this new way of working whilst holding the therapeutic boundaries will enable us to meet what will be an ever-increasing need for quality therapeutic support. If you light a candle before your session starts and blow it out when you are finished, you have created a symbolic space within your home.
“A beginning and end in the availability of the space for client work. Take care of yourself – remember this is just as draining as face to face client work, if not more. If you are feeling tired book yourself a couple of days of holiday and put it in your diary. Now more than ever, keep yourself safe both physically and emotionally.”
Find out more
The Practice is an award-winning counselling service (Most Dedicated Counselling Service – South East England by SME News 2020) that exists to inspire therapeutic change for the better.
Jane says: “The idea that people are struggling with their mental health and can’t find the right help is very difficult for us. At The Practice we empower a collaborative collective of highly qualified, like-minded therapists who are deeply good human beings and who together inspire, support and influence each other to deliver the very best mental health experience that’s right for our clients.”
You can find out more about Jane and The Practice at https://thepractice.co.uk/
We hope that reading the stories of other freelancers can inspire your approach to freelancing and provide you with some useful tips.
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